Living With Chronic Pain

Medically Reviewed by Beth Hendrickson, RN

Fifty million Americans have pain; chronic pain, lasting six months or longer and 25 million Americans experience short-term pain from injuries or surgeries annually. Women tend to experience daily pain, miss work because of pain and develop conditions that cause chronic pain. If you experience pain with your chronic illness, as most of us do, you may not always want to complain to your physician often fearing they may view you as a whiner.

Until recently, health care professionals received little training in pain treatment. What they do know is that injuries trigger the release of certain pain chemicals and cause a number of other automatic physical responses. But what if you don't have an injury? The joint pain experience in Lupus, for example, is not cause by injury but still can make you feel as though you've hit a brick wall.

By now you may be wondering why I am focusing on pain if doctors have little training dealing with it - because it can change, even control your life if you let it. Before we learn how to deal with pain, we must first understand pain.

Two Basic Types of Pain

1. Acute Pain - temporary pain that's related to a specific cause. This pain serves as a message to the body that something is wrong.

2. Chronic Pain - this type of pain may last from a few months to many years. Its cause is often unclear and may not inform the body of a specific, treatable problem.

Some Causes of Chronic Pain

  • Injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Back & neck problems
  • Migraine headaches
  • Ulcers
  • Other diseases
  • Unknown reasons

Some Common Sites of Chronic Pain

  • Back
  • Head & neck
  • Joints
  • Stomach
  • Muscles
  • Nerves

When you see your doctor for pain, be clear

  1. tell him when the pain started
  2. where the pain is located
  3. what make your pain feel better or worse
  4. if the pain radiates
  5. how the pain currently feels
  6. how the pain feels in its mildest/worst form
  7. how the pain rates on a scale of 1 to 10

Also choose the appropriate words to describe your pain

  • Stabbing
  • Aching
  • Dull
  • Piercing
  • Tingling
  • Gnawing
  • Deep
  • Pounding
  • Shocklike

An accurate explanation puts your pain into perspective fro your physician so he can determine what type of treatment is best for you. Some treatments used to help combat your pain may include therapy (family or individual), occupational/physical therapy, behavior modification, relaxation and meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis or acupuncture.

A few tips to help you deal with your pain

  1. Accept your Pain – accepting, not denying the pain, is the first step in living with your pain.
    1. adjust your goals - set goals that are challenging but possible to achieve
    2. learn the difference between hurt and harm - actions that cuase you pain do not necessarly cause harm
    3. keep a journal - a written record may help you to see how you are feeling physically and emotionally
    4. don't use your pain to get attention or as an excuse for not trying new things
  2. Reduce Your Stress - your pain causes stress and stress causes pain, so learn how to take action and break the cycle.
    1. relax - staying relaxed can usually lessen your pain
    2. join a support group or find someone you can talk to about your pain
    3. cut down on stimulants - stimulants like caffeing and nicotine may intensify pain
  3. Manage Your Pain By Staying Healthy
    1. get on schedule - try to eat and sleep regularly
    2. eat a balanced diet
    3. exercise - get plenty of appropriate exercise
    4. reduce your alcohol intake - just one drink can effect your medications effectiveness
  4. Stay Active - positive actions can help to combat chronic pain
    1. think positive - live for the future, not in the past
    2. help others - be a friend to others in similar situations
    3. choose activities and hobbies that interest you
    4. learn to pace yourself

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Gretchen Malik is the author of "Healthy Women - A Self-Help Guide for Women"

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